NASA is preparing to launch the eighth observation satellite in the Landsat remote sensing program that has chronicled changes in the Earth’s land cover for four decades.
Landsat 8, set for a Feb. 11 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, will be equipped with instruments capable of more sensitive data collection than its predecessors. “This will be the best Landsat satellite ever in terms of quality and quantity,” said NASA project scientist Jim Irons.
The satellite will circle the Earth about 14 times a day, 438 miles above the planet, recording observations in different wavelengths along a 115-mile-wide swath and orbiting over the same point every 16 days. Information from the sensors, which will generate about 400 images a day, are used to map vegetation, soil moisture and heat emitted from the Earth’s surface.
Started in 1972 with the launch of its first satellite, Landsat is jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The program has amassed a vivid record of global land changes such as tropical deforestation, the explosive growth of Las Vegas and the recovery of the landscape surrounding Mt. St. Helens after the Washington volcano erupted in 1980.
Landsat 5, launched in 1984, was retired last month. Landsat 7, launched in 1999, remains in operation although with gaps in its data collection.